Pre-2005: The way things were…
I don’t feel like I can tell you about where I’m at now, without telling you where I started.
Before I had children I was in a Senior Management role in a university. I was at the same level as my husband, who was working at a different university. We worked hard. We worked long hours. I can remember arriving at work before 8am and staying until 7pm, then eating takeaway food on the way home before working into the night at home (and weekends). Some would say they were our “formative years” as leaders.
I think we must have been insane.
There’s no other word for it. It’s that time when you’re expecting your first baby and you have a vision of booking them into childcare and returning to work full-time, that things will be just how they were before you brought another human being into the world.
I literally ran through my first pregnancy. When the cherub arrived, I felt a strong need to stay connected to work because work was my identity and I hadn’t even begun to ponder what a new identity might look like. My husband and I talked about our options and came up with a plan that we thought might work for our family.
We really didn’t have a clue about how hard “the juggle” would be. Could we both do a day from home? Not sure…
It was with great trepidation I approached my Manager to ask to return to work. I suggested comprising 4 days at work with 1-day working from home. I didn’t expect he would say yes. But he did! (In fact, I was half-ready to offer my resignation, I was a pioneer in terms of ‘flexible work’ arrangements and therefore couldn’t point to anyone with a similar arrangement).
At the same time my husband asked for a similar arrangement. This meant our one year old was at childcare three long days each week, spending the fourth day at home with me and the fifth day at home with my husband.
We did that for a year successfully, but then my husband took on a more senior role that didn’t lend itself to working from home any day of the week (there’s a whole other blog post to be written on that!). So we had to reassess “the juggle”.
2007: The official move to part-time
The childcare centre our son was at was wonderful, but we were happy having him there three days per week. This meant I requested a part-time arrangement where I would work 3 days in the office and 1 day from home.
However, another issue was raised: who would be the Manager of our office in my absence on the fifth day? Again I took ownership and talked to my Deputy (who was also my succession plan!) who she was keen to act in my role one day per week. We put forward the proposal and suggested a three-month trial, with a review at that point in time.
The conclusion? It worked well.
2009: The joy of job-sharing
An opportunity presented itself for me to apply for a different role at the same level. As it was a new role, I asked if I could continue my current arrangement of 3 days at work/1 day at home. They said yes and I continued working this way until my second pregnancy.
Things seemed different this time and I couldn’t imagine working from home – or more accurately, wanting to work from home – with two children under 4. I had the experience of bouncing my son in his rocker while attending teleconferences and dealing with difficult staffing issues on my day from home and it hadn’t been much fun. I wanted to enjoy my two days at home and play with the kids, not work.
So, when looking for a suitable person to fill my maternity leave vacancy I talked openly about the possibility of a job-share arrangement when I returned. I found the most wonderful woman and we worked extremely well together… not that we were ever in the office together, but we put arrangements in place that worked well for us – and our team – and kept our communication open.
To begin with, she worked 3 days and I worked 2 days, then later we swapped and I worked 3 days while she worked 2 days. We had very different strengths, styles and preferences and I think that’s why it worked. I will always be grateful to her for making that arrangement possible over a period of about three years and also grateful to my boss, who approved the trial of job-share in the first place and supported it continuing over that time.
2018: The here-and-now. I’m in control of my own schedule!
Things are very different now. I have been running my own coaching and facilitation business since 2015, which means I am in control of my own time. I can block-out a day in my calendar if I want to go on a school excursion. I can block-out every Friday morning to help at the school canteen. Eighty per cent of the time I am home in the morning when the kids leave for school and I’m home in the afternoon when they finish school. I even approve my own leave!
I normally do face-to-face coaching during the day (within school hours), but I also schedule telephone coaching sessions between 7-8am and sometimes in the early evening.
As anyone who runs their own business would probably say, being responsible for what you earn can have a downside… but the upside is that I LOVE what I do every day and I have the sort of flexibility many people dream of.
Who knows where the next part of my flexible working journey will take me, but reflecting on how different flexible arrangements have been right for me and my family over the past 15 years just reinforces what I already knew – that there is not one solution that fits everyone and that your needs change over time. It is crucial employers understand this and work with their employees to make working flexibly a reality.
Julie was in a senior leadership role when she had her first experience of executive coaching and it changed her life. She thought her coach had magic powers and left that coaching session with a level of clarity and certainty she hadn’t felt in years.
This experience led her down the coaching path. Julie is passionate about helping people achieve positive change in their lives. She is passionate about helping others identify their areas for growth to make the biggest difference to their confidence, career, and/or wellbeing. In addition, Julie loves working with people to stretch their thinking and explore new possibilities.
Julie has made some tough choices in her own pursuit of ‘balance’, giving her a first-hand appreciation of how difficult it can be to know what you want for yourself and those around you. Through coaching, Julie helps people take a step back, get clarity about their personal vision, then make changes that will move them toward that, develop the strategies and maintain the momentum to pursue it.
Julie is an Associate Certified Coach with the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and is the current President of the ICF’s SA Branch.